NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce Gets New Director, Elevated Position

NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce Gets New Director, Elevated Position

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced today that Richard DalBello will be the new Director of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce. OSC has been without a permanent director since the change of administrations 15 months ago. She also said the office will be elevated to a higher level within NOAA, a step recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee among others.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo testifying to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, April 27, 2022. Screengrab.

Raimondo made the announcement during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on the Department’s FY2023 budget request. The request includes a steep increase for OSC, from $16 million to $87.7 million. “I think that at long last we are now organizing and prioritizing space commerce and putting leadership in that we need and I’m very much asking Congress for support on the funding that the President requests.”

She said he will report for duty on May 9.

DalBello is very well known in space policy circles, having spent more than 30 years in a wide variety of government and private sector positions. Most recently he was Vice President for Global Engagement at Virgin Galactic.

Among his previous government jobs, he worked at the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, on the staff of the 1985-1986 National Commission on Space, for NASA as director of commercial communications where he was responsible for private sector experiments on the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), and in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during both the Clinton and Obama Administrations.

Richard DalBello, incoming Director of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce. Photo credit: NOAA

Perhaps most relevantly, he was Deputy Director and then Director of this office in the late 1988-1991 time frame when it was called the Office of Space Commercialization.

In the private sector, he was president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association; president of the Satellite Industry Association; general counsel of Spotcast Communications Inc.; Vice President for Government Affairs, North America for ICO Global Communications; and Vice President, Legal and Government Affairs for Intelsat General.

DalBello is widely credited with spearheading creation of the Space Data Association while he was at Intelsat. SDA was established by the three largest geostationary communications satellite operators — Intelsat, Inmarsat, and SES — to share location data on their constellations. In 2010, DalBello was recognized by Space News as one of “10 People Who Made a Difference” for his leadership in forming SDA.

He has his work cut out for him in his new position.  OSC is engaged in a somewhat similar exercise as SDA, but on a much larger scale. The Trump Administration’s Space Policy Directive-3 designated the Department of Commerce to become the government’s interface with civil and commerical satellite operators on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM) — knowing what objects are in space and warning if there is a collision risk. DOD has done that historically, but with the tremendous growth in the number of countries and companies launching ever more satellites and the amount of space debris growing every day, DOD wants to shift responsibility for the non-military sector to another agency so it can focus on its own needs.

The Office of Space Commerce has been assigned that task. Originally established by the Secretary of Commerce in 1988, it has had a complicated history since then and is now part of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), which operates the nation’s civil weather satellites.

In 2018, Kevin O’Connell was appointed OSC director. He initiated the effort to create an Open Access Data Repository (OADR) to combine DOD’s data on space objects with that from commercial companies that now have their own tracking systems. O’Connell was a political appointee who left at the end of the Trump Administration. The position has been filled on an acting basis for the past 15 months. Progress on OADR has been slow, although the head of NESDIS, Steve Volz, recently previewed an OADR prototype and began seeking industry input on space object tracking and services.

Volz and others, including the Senate Appropriations Committee, have been pushing to elevate OSC to a higher level in NOAA where it can have more visibility and interact with other agencies on a more even footing.

Raimondo announced today that OSC will indeed now report to “NOAA Headquarters.” Rick Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator said OSC’s work is a “high priority” at NOAA and with “Richard leading OSC, the agency is equipped to enhance the safety, stability and sustainability of a growing commercial space environment.”

The move is far short of what Raimondo’s predecessor, Wilbur Ross, envisioned  — a Bureau of Space Commerce reporting directly to him as a “one-stop shop” for the commercial space industry — but it is a step forward.

DalBello’s appointment is being greeted with enthusiasm.

Dan Dumbacher, Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), told today that DalBello is a “great choice” with his “extensive experience in the commercial space and satellite industry” and his “strong understanding of space policy.”  Dumbacher recently penned an op-ed in Space News warning that “Congress must act now to avert a catastrophe in space” by doing even more by codifying the Department of Commerce’s role in SSA and STM. He reiterated that today: “The office must be authorized as the government entity to carry out civilian STM responsibilities and be appropriated adequate funding. AIAA and its coalition of key stakeholders look forward to working with Rich to make sure the office has the resources necessary to accomplish its critical missions.”

Victoria Samson, Director of the Washington Office of the Secure World Foundation, also praised the appointment telling that DalBello is a “great person for the role” and she hopes these moves give OSC “the institutional authority and budget to carry out” its responsiblities. SWF advocates for space sustainability — ensuring earth orbit does not become so cluttered with satellites and debris that it is unusable for future generations.

The Satellite Industry Association, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) all expressed support, too. Mike French, AIA Vice President for Space Systems, said “Richard’s deep industry and government experience are well aligned to build Commerce’s space sustainability role and serve as an advocate for maintaining U.S. industry’s leadership in the global space market.”

DalBello has a B.S. in political science from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in law from McGill University, and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco.

He said: “Space safety and sustainability are two of the most critical issues facing the international community today and I am pleased the Biden Administration has made these issues a priority.”


This article has been updated.

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